When I first started writing, I didn’t understand what beta readers were. I’d read fan fiction and there would be a note from the author thanking their beta readers. It seemed unnecessary to me, or at least more tedious than it was worth. However, since I started taking writing more seriously, my opinion has completely changed. Beta readers are the most important part of this process. I will never again try to publish something without submitting to beta readers.
What is a Beta Reader?
Beta readers are people who read your book when you think it’s ready. You can do this before or after editing (I have seen people do it both ways). I typically do it after editing because often the beta readers get distracted by all of the typos and can’t focus fully on the story.
Beta readers are NOT editors. They may also be skilled editors, but that is not what they are doing when they read your book. They are only supposed to read your story and help you perfect the story itself.
Who Should Be a Beta Reader?
Assembling your beta reading team is up to you, but there are several things to keep in mind.
- You must be open to critique. Commit to making the story the best it can possibly be. It’s your baby and you owe it to your story to do what is best for the novel, not protect your ego. You may hear feedback you aren’t going to like. Someone might hate a character, or suggest you delete an entire arc of plot. They may say things that inadvertently hurt your feelings. It is important to remember that they represent your potential readers. You don’t have to accept every single thing they say, but you should at least be listening.
- Your book is not published yet, so choose someone you trust. A despicable human being might take your manuscript and publish it as their own. You could probably fight that and win, but it’s best to just avoid it. Even then, it may be a good idea to back up the authenticity of your work. Any timestamped material would help you with this. One way to do that is to print it and mail it to yourself. The post office timestamps the envelope.
- Choose people who will honestly criticize. You want people who will like your story, but you also need feedback. If everyone who reads it is just going to tell you it’s awesome (or awful) without offering any input, your book won’t be as perfect as it can be.
- Choose people who would like your genre. Don’t beg a hard sci-fi reader to read your romance novel. They aren’t going to enjoy it or even appreciate it properly, so they won’t give you meaningful feedback. They also won’t have a great understanding of what the story should be like, or the experience reading your genre you need them to have.
- Choose varying levels of readership. I have several layers of readers.
- The first people I submit my novel to will be the easy-to-please readers who will mostly tell me they love it. They can help me find the major flaws but not much else, and that’s fine. I know the novel is worth pursuing if it makes it past them. Family members may be good choices.
- The next people I submit the novel to will be people who don’t really want to hurt my feelings, but who read and write in my genre. They will help me fine tune mechanical devices and pinpoint necessary/unnecessary passages. They will critique the structure of my story as well as the plot. These are typically my closer writing friends.
- The last set of people I submit to will be readers/writers in my genre who are also writers and have no interest sparing my feelings. They are usually more removed friends who are incredibly picky about what they read and know exactly what to look for.
- Finally, after I have taken the first three beta readers into account and made necessary changes, I have a final set of readers that represent the broader fan base. Basically, I want to make sure I can please 5-10 readers and determine if the first three readers were too unique. A fluke. This is an added layer from me, as not doing this the first time led to me publishing a slightly disappointing scene in my first book.
How Many Beta Readers Do I Need?
As few or as many as you want, really. The more you ask, though, the longer you will have to wait to be finished. Reading your book might take a long time. However, if you don’t choose enough people, you might not get enough feedback.
What Should They Look For?
Beta Readers should be helping you shine up your story. Ask them to focus on muddy/unclear parts, point out what they love and what they hate, and especially flag what confuses them.
I linked this blog post on our blog, but am quoting it here:
1. At what point did you feel like “Ah, now the story has really begun!”
2. What were the points where you found yourself skimming?
3. Which setting in the book was clearest to you as you were reading it? Which do you remember the best?
4. Which character would you most like to meet and get to know?
5. What was the most suspenseful moment in the book?
6. If you had to pick one character to get rid of, who would you axe?
7. Was there a situation in the novel that reminded you of something in your own life?
8. Where did you stop reading, the first time you cracked open the manuscript? (Can show you where your first dull part is, and help you fix your pacing.)
9. What was the last book you read, before this? And what did you think of it? (This can put their comments in context in surprising ways, when you find out what their general interests are. It might surprise you.)
10. Finish this sentence: “I kept reading because…”
Lastly, thank your beta readers for their help. The work they do for you is incredibly important to the success of your novel.
Special thanks to all of my friends and beta readers, even the ones who upset me. I try to keep my frustration to myself. Feeling angry is often just my gut reaction to the work that has to go into a story to fix it. That’s just me raging in general that I messed up, not me getting angry at anyone in particular.
Because honestly, the work that ACHILLEA needed (and still needs) to prepare it for publication was daunting and exhausting, but it is going to be worth it when it is finished, I promise!
Thanks for reading!
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